From this quiet beginning comes a flurry of plot -- characters, names, faces are thrown at the audience -- and then a flurry of action. From a balletic fight in a confined car to a shocking and frankly inimitable battle in a muddy prison yard, Evans, along with his choreography team that includes the film's stars (led by Iko Uwais), have really outdone themselves.
Moviefone Canada sat down with Evans after the rapturous screening during the 2014 Sundance film Festival to chat about "The Raid 2," and how they're dealing with the amazingly positive reaction to their martial arts film.
Moviefone Canada: Could you talk about the dynamic you guys have on set? Can you go into detail about how it all comes together?
Gareth Evans: When we start designing it, one of the things that we set up is that we won't copy anything that we've done in the first film, or anything we've done previously, so that sets a challenge from the get-go.
The weird part is that we did a lot of choreography for this before we did "The Raid: Redemption." We were at that stage where we wrote "Berandal" first and then that [work], we didn't get the budget for it. We ended up doing [the first film]. Most of the time the choreography is dictated by the psychology of the scene. What is the psychology of the fighter and what's his goal line? That will dictate how desperate his movements will be. Is it going to be clean choreography, or is it going to be rough? In a scene like the toilet fight [in "Berandal"], it's in an enclosed space. Because [the main character] manages to keep it from building up for a long time, and keeps it to one-on-one or two-on-one for a long time, or people trying to climb over, it was more controlled. There's a hell of a lot more crisp, clean, complex choreography in there.
It's just f**king carnage. It's like, is there a chair anywhere? Use it. Is there a glass ball nearby? Use it. Use it aggressively, use it rough. It's like setting tones and atmosphere and also understanding what the skill set is of the fighters that he's up against. Are they really talented fighters or are they disposable? That was one of the things that was quite fun to hear when we came to the movie, everyone was like, oh my God, they're raiding this building and everyone is a martial artist. But half of the fighters are s**t. Because half of the fighters who come out of those doors are armed with a knife, they just swing and then they get taken out immediately because they're not skilled. They're not supposed to be. That's why Iko can plow through those guys pretty quickly.
The body can only do so many things. How do you get them to do things which are cinematically and narratively new?
A lot of the time the hardest part is that when we design it, we don't know what the locations look like yet. That can be a problem for my art department, because if we come up with something really specific while we're inside an office space, all we have is just this room with crash mats on the floor and then we figure it out. Pretend there's an iron beam here. You push him and he hits his head on the iron beam, there's a drop on the left where his head hits the floor. So suddenly we're in a situation where we need to find a location now where we can do this. So I get really specific with my poor locations guy in my art department. Suddenly, they have to transform these locations to fit the choreography rather than the other way around.
It's clear, based on your opening sequence that has a flurry of information and characters, that the audience should really see the first film before diving into the sequel.
This sounds terrible, but when it came to if they'd seen the first one or not, f**k 'em. It's "The Raid 2," right? I would never have watched "Back to the Future 2" without having watched the first one, because you can't follow it. I know that with "The Godfather 2" there are elements you can get away with without watching the first one, but you wouldn't get the full experience of it. There would be a lot of stuff that would be completely confusing to you.
You're using the soundtrack to actually carry over from one location or time period to another.
Exactly. That was me borrowing from Sam Peckinpah's "The Getaway," where Steve McQueen is in the prison cell and you've got that build-up of sound, which takes you through different images and different experiences of being in prison before he gets released.
So you never wanted to do the "Mad Max" thing to help out the viewer, with a five-minute montage of all the highlights of the previous film as prologue. Was that ever a consideration?
I actually like the "Mad Max" thing, but that wouldn't work for this. Another downside is that we shot them both on two different formats, and so the quality of the image would just look so different. Different aspect ratios, different quality of footage, it wouldn't be 2K, it would be HD for the first one, so to blow that up it would look ugly and we'd have to do black and white and then treat it.
Crafting unique fights, how hard it is to remain fresh?
[Many films] are influences, but the one thing I wanted to do was something different with the undercover cop movie. Usually, it's all about the undercover cop uncovering the thing and solving the crime, but in this one, I wanted to focus on that everything that they wish for doesn't come true for anyone. No one gets what they want in the film, and the actual undercover operation is a deceit.
There are certain clichés you hit and certain clichés you want to avoid. There's some that you hit and you hit them purposefully because they're staples of the genre, they're shorthand. And there are certain things I'm trying to avoid. [The goal was] to try and do something a little different with it and to try to do something new with the genre. And not just copy other films. I'm trying to do something new and hopefully people go with it and are cool with it.
"The Raid 2: Berandal" screened to rave reviews and ecstatic audiences at Sundance. It has a tentative release date on March 28, 2014.